Monday, July 31, 2006

 

Renegade Writer Q&A: Rachel Weingarten

Rachel Weingarten (middle in photo) is an author, freelance writer, marketing maven, and all-around cool person. Recently, the chichi New York City department store Henri Bendel ran a huge promotion surrounding her new book Hello Gorgeous! Linda interviewed Rachel to find out how scored this coup, how she markets herself and her work, and how freelance writers can learn from her marketing genius.

Q. You got Henri Bendel in NYC to run a huge promotion surrounding your book, Hello Gorgeous! Okay, spill -- how did you pull off such a coup?

A. Okay, I think that people should realize that my 'day' job is in marketing and promotions, so to shake off some of the stardust -- it was less of a Cinderella story (though trust me, it was a fairytale) and more about me doing my job extremely well and working with a brilliant marketing and creative team at Bendel's. In other words, I do fabulous launches and events for clients all of the time, but this was the first one that I've done for myself.

The other thing is that it didn't just happen, I wrote the initial proposals way back in February and the week long event took place in July. It was months of back and forth, dead leads, detail work, bringing in additional partners and more. Bendel's went above and beyond in every element of this promotion, from the spectacular windows, to the displays, to the marketing, PR, creative and in store staff- I was blown away by their professionalism, attention to detail and enthusiasm for the promo. I cannot say enough wonderful things about them. I practically collapsed with exhaustion after it was over! What I really did in this situation was hire myself to market this book for me. Easier said than done, since Rachel the author didn't have the budget (or any budget to speak of) that GTK's clients normally do!

I'll paste in something that I'd written on FLX as well:

I think the misconception is that I, as a first time author, managed to snag a promo of this magnitude. The fact is that for my 'day' job, I run a marketing agency (GTK Marketing Group). As part of my day to day, I create brand strategies, produce major events (among others Fashion Week events, events for the Oscars and Golden Globes, and charity events), launch books/films/celebrity projects, and create promotions including for NY Times best-selling authors.

In other words, Rachel the author 'hired' Rachel the marketer to create a promotion. It was brutal, and took months of planning, proposals, preparation (what's with the Ps?) networking, calling in a lot of my existing contacts, making new ones, sweet talking, etc. The bottom line is that I never ask anyone simply to do something for me; whenever I create partnerships for launch projects, be it for myself or a client, I make damn well sure that they are getting as much (brand equity, exposure) if not more than I or my client are getting. For me this is second nature, so I can make it sound overly simplistic or even easy -- it isn't, it's a ton of hard work, brainstorming, frequent failure and more -- you all just hear about some of the successes.

I will quote an email that I received from a very dear, very wise friend who shall remain nameless (and I will hope that she's okay with me posting this): She was commenting on the fact that I make it look easy, and that others might not quite understand just how hard I work (and that perhaps I don't even realize how hard I work, because I thoroughly enjoy it): "An anecdote: years ago an acquaintance of mine interviewed the late Pierre Franey, who did an incredibly popular meals in 60 minutes column for the NYT (it predated Mark Bittman). She asked Franey how long it took him to do each column. He said, about an hour and 30 years of experience. I think that's how it is with you. You don't just wake up and say I think I'll ask Bendel to feature me in their window. This takes a life of collaboration, planning, networking, etc. If you've laid the groundwork it looks easy; if you haven't, you'll never pull it off." She's entirely right. This promotion was the culmination of years of work.

Q. How did the promotion go?

A. The promo itself was spectacular -- beyond my wildest dreams. I actually had Bendel's in mind when writing the book, so I'm sure that colored my determination to work with them!

Okay, the 5th Avenue windows were decorated with '50s style mannequins wearing "dresses" made up out of blown up pages from my book. At their feet were these cool sort of 'shrines' made up of beauty products used in the '50s along with copies of my book. And the windows were emblazoned with bright red script (like the cover of my book) saying "Hello Gorgeous!" When you walked into the store the main atrium entrance was transformed into a 'house' from the '50s and lining the center aisles were blown up images from my book in these cool neon kiosks.

Three of the coolest indie cosmetic brands (Pout, Tarte, and Benefit) participated. The artists from each brand wore satin hostess aprons emblazoned with "Hello Gorgeous" (three different colors depending on the brand) and each brand had a 'room' in the house. So you could sit at a retro kitchen, living room or bedroom and be transformed to a glamazon from another era. I was in the 'bar' section which was a cool and kitschy bar with stools set up for me to sign books during my appearances in the store. (okay, I'm still convinced that I dreamed it all, but pictures prove otherwise)

Q. How would you translate your promotional wizardry for magazine writers? Can freelance writers use any of your techniques to sell more articles?

A. Ah. another great question. I think that many magazine writers panic after some queries go ignored, and blame everything on themselves -- that they don't have a J school background, nor do they have contacts in place to help them to ease the way. I think that if you're good enough and have something new to say, people will eventually take notice. I think that the key is not to wait around thinking that you'll be discovered -- that's the fallacy.

And never give up when you know in your gut that you're onto something. For better or worse, I'm not terribly devastated when rejected. Sure it hurts (like a punch in my highly intuitive gut). Perhaps it's idiotic bravado, but when I know that I'm onto something I'll keep knocking on doors until someone opens, usually long after a 'normal' person would have given up.

I pick up magazines at times and am horrified at how trite or poorly written some of the articles are, and then I'll pick up a magazine with a story that I could have written better, and thennnnnnnnn I'll pick up a magazine and be blown away by the purity of prose of a really good writer. I learn from all three of these articles on how I can change and evolve. I think for many renegade writers, there's the attitude that they're different, and that's enough -- not so. You have to prove that your kind of different is the good different as opposed to the cross-the-street-when-they-see-you-coming different.

The other thing is when wrong to accept it and move on. Don't push if your story is stale -- what's the point?

Q. You sound like a real renegade chick. What are some rules you've broken in authoring a book, writing for magazines, or promoting yourself?

A. Thank you for that compliment! I am a rule breaker by nature (as mentioned above). I think that one of the rules that I live by is the fact that I don't live by the same rules that anyone else does, and I'm okay with it (after years of trying to conform).

When I started out in business people thought that I was insane since I didn't have a formal business background, nor did I have any connections -- be it in the old boy's club or high-placed sorority sisters. Your question actually illustrates the rules that I've broken -- I did all three at the same time -- while working full time!

I'm someone who firmly believes that if you want to do something (and it's legal), you should just do it. I think that as a society we can be bogged down with so many ideas of right or wrong, that we stop trusting ourselves. I think the key to being a successful rebel is in having something that doesn't work to rebel against. If something isn't working, then you figure out how to provide a solution that does.

Q. Where did you pick up your promotional skills?

A. I don't think that it's something that you pick up, or it runs the risk of becoming mechanical and far from creative. Some people play the violin, I get people excited about what I'm working on. I have honed my skills over the years and will continue to do so. I've had business mentors in my life and dear friends, and I mostly just study success and failure and try to learn from them. I also take genuine joy in seeing people get excited about what I'm working on. I've toyed with the idea of going to B School, but have been told that it would kill my creativity. I've been asked many times over the years if I have an MBA to which I answer, 'Yes, I do. And he lives in Chicago.' The other thing is that I turn down work all the time. If I'm not excited by what you're doing, I can't see 'living' with it for months or years, nor can I see getting other people excited by it.

Q. Have your renegade ways ever backfired?

A. Linda, I wish that I had but a single failure to share with you. I've had far more failures than successes, but I've learned not to dwell on the failures and to keep building on the successes. The other thing is that I have failed to live by corporate America's rules and therefore had to determine the career path(s) that work for me. I live by Thomas Edison's words: "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work."

Q. Fill in the blanks: Freelance writer is to marketer as:

A. architect is to interior designer.

Q. Do you have any other tips for freelance writers?

A. Love what you do and love your subjects. Passion is nearly impossible to fake and there are zillions of mediocre and poor writers out there -- let yourself and your subject soar.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

 

Moneysaving tips you'll never read about in magazines

***Our blog has moved! You'll find more great tips for your renegade writing lifestyle at the Renegade Writer Blog. ***

This week I bought three magazines at Borders I may be interested in pitching. Total cost? $14.48. Ouch! To riff off Leona Helmsley, only fools pay newsstand prices, but I really needed these magazines, and I consoled myself that I'd be able to expense them on my taxes.

I don't think I've ever read any money-saving tips in articles about how to save major bucks buying magazines. We talked about it briefly in the Renegade Writer, but since then I've picked up some new tips. Let's break them into three categories: cheap, cheaper, cheapest.

Cheap:

-- Check your Sunday coupon supplements. Occasionally you'll find a cents-off coupon for magazines like Woman's Day and Family Circle. The coupon is usually for a certain issue, but other times, it's good for six weeks or so. If you want to buy a couple issues for market research, it may be worth raiding your mother-in-law's coupon caddy for extra coupons.

-- Use cash register coupons. When I buy magazines at the grocery store, I frequently get a store coupon to use on my next purchase of a similar magazine. For example, I buy Fitness and get a coupon for 50 cents off my next Self.

-- Send the magazine's SASC for a year-long subscription. You might as well get a whole year for what you'd pay for three newsstand issues.

-- A bonus tip for the super thrifty: Check your subscription's start date. I've sent in subscription cards from a January issue, yet the publication will start my subscription effective with the December issue -- occasionally November! Call the magazine and ask that they change your start date to the February issue -- or even the March if you purchased February on the newsstand.

Cheaper:

-- Buy subscriptions off eBay. I've found some fantastic deals here. I got three years each of Parents, Parenting, and Child for $9.78. A two-year sub to Reader's Digest for $9.98. Yankee for $8.00. You get the idea. I buy only from sellers/brokers who have excellent ratings, and I haven't run into problems yet.

-- Mine your professional affiliations. I'm not a member of ASJA, but I hear they have an excellent magazine subscription program for member/writers. I get subscription offers from magazines because I teach at a local community college: for example, I just got an offer for a year's worth of The New Yorker for $20 (or something like that).

-- Use your frequent flier miles or rewards points to buy magazines. I've used American Express rewards points to buy dozens of magazines, and when some of my United Mileage Plus miles were about to expire, I traded them for subscriptions.

-- Check out the following websites for cheap magazines subscriptions: MagazinePriceSearch.com, Discountmagazines.com, netmagazines.com, and amazon.com. Or Google "cheap magazine subscriptions" -- you'll get thousands of hits.


Cheapest:

-- Read magazines online. More and more magazines are putting their content on the web. If you're simply reading these publications to figure out what kind of stories they like, or you're already familiar with their demographics (I like to look at the actual magazine when I'm doing market research), web-based reading costs you nothing but bandwidth.

-- Steal them. Well, let me clarify that. Steal them from doctor's offices, your mother's coffee table, your brother's lad mag stash ... that sort of stealing. Occassionally I'll see a magazine that I've never seen at the newsstand, so I turn on the charm and ask if I can borrow it. I've never been turned down.

-- Read them at the library. This is what Linda does. My local library has subscriptions to at least 200 magazines. They don't even charge late fees if I'm late returning them!

-- Log into a database. Back to the library -- in Massachusetts, any resident with a library card has access to some amazing magazine databases, including Gale Group, InfoTrak, the Boston Globe, the New York Times, and more. While I still subscribe to dozens of magazines, I've been able to dump hundreds of back issues from my library. If I want to find out what Parenting has done on potty training recently, I can search InfoTrak.

Any other tips you have to save money on magazines?

Friday, July 28, 2006

 

Anthony Bourdain in Beirut

I am a fan of Anthony Bourdain's writing, as well as his food shows, so I eagerly dug into his Salon article about his thwarted experience filming in Beirut.

The surprise, for me, came at the end. My younger brother, Matt, is a Marine who's stationed in the Mideast. We just found out a couple weeks ago that he was relocated to Cyprus to help ferry people out of Lebanon. I got one short e-mail from him last week saying he was pretty tired from carrying babies around all day.

And today I read Bourdain's words. After he, his crew, and the rest of the refugees are man-handled by the embassy staff, "... we are put in the charge of the sailors and Marines of the USS Nashville who've hauled ass from Jordan on short notice to undertake a mission for which they are unrehearsed and inexperienced. Yet they perform brilliantly. The moment we pass through the last checkpoint into their control, all are treated with a kindness and humanity we can scarcely believe. Squared away, efficient, organized and caringly sensitive, the Marines break the crowd into sensibly spaced groups, give them shade and water, lead them single file to an open-ended landing craft at the water's edge. They carry babies, children, heat-stroke victims, luggage. They are soft-spoken, casually friendly. They give out treats and fruit and water. They reassure us with their ease and professionalism."

Anyway, I'm sitting here all teary and proud. Bourdain mentions none of these guys looks older than 17; indeed, my brother can carry all sorts of crazy-ass weapons on behalf of the U.S. government, but he can't legally kick back with a drink at the end of the day. So if you're reading this Matt, Friday Happy Hour is in honor of you. Nice job. :-)

Thursday, July 27, 2006

 

Getting Things Done

This week I'm re-reading Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity by David Allen. OK, I'm fibbing. I'm attempting to read it for the 11th time. Not that it's boring or poorly written; there are paragraphs in there I want to etch on the inside of my eyelids! Everything he writes makes perfect sense. But I seem to lose steam around the middle when I realize what a freaking lot of work it's going to be, and I go right back to my slothful ways.

In a nutshell, to become more productive, you have to get a handle on all the "open loops" running through your head. All these random bits of information and nagging worries zap the energy you need to be fully productive. You need a black-belt in productivity, to paraphrase what he preaches in GTD. You do this by collecting, in one place, everything that needs your attention in your life: projects, ideas, to-do lists, forms, crumpled up sticky notes, assignments, etc. Then you sort through them and decide how you're going to act next: do you toss? File? Act now? Or in the future? Then you take action, either by tossing, filing, doing, or scheduling. The key is to get everything in your life into a system so that you can focus on your work at hand without being distracted by worries or wondering, "Did I forget to call Mom on her birthday?" When you work the system properly, you won't forget to call Mom, and you'll do a better job staying focused on what's important to you at that moment. (Wikipedia has a "Getting Things Done" entry, which gives even more detail. Also, check out 43folders, Lifehack.org, and Allen's company website.)

I'm fired up to give this a go ... for the 12th time. I'm curious: are any of you GTD fans? How has it helped you with your writing career? Did you fully embrace the system or just take what you need? (I'll probably fall into the later category, but Allen seems okay with that. I hate it when authors say, You have to do things MY way or the highway.)

I hope to report back in a few weeks about my improved productivity! :-)

 

Love Your Inner Critic

We writers always talk about how to turn off our inner critics. In my opinion, completely turning off our inner critics is how we churn out a lot of crap.

True, some of us have inner critics that are so harsh that they make writing truly painful for us, and even keep us from getting anything done. In these cases, our inner critics can use some softening. But most of the time, our inner critics are helping us discern between "good enough" and "great."

If your critic says, "This sucks," ask it why the writing sucks. Maybe you'll discover something, such as you used too many adverbs or you went overboard on the alliterative subheads or you really need just one more quote. Then fix the problem and reward your inner critic with a chocolate brownie. (Inner critics love chocolate brownies.)

 

Worst pitch ever.

As magazine writers, we often get pitches from PR people looking to snag some prime magazine space for their clients. And some of us freelance writers also do corporate/PR writing. So I loved this post by John Scalzi about the worst PR pitch he's received as a blogger. The post is hilarious, and it may have resulted in the clueless PR person getting canned.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

 

How to track an agent's sales

If you're curious about a certain agent's selling record or you want to keep tabs on what your favorite book editors like to buy, Publishers Marketplace has a handy new tracking tool called Deal Tracker. Deal Tracker lets you specify a list of agents, agencies, editors, and/or publishers/imprints to track. Each time you visit the page, you're updated on all the deals posted since your last visit. Very cool!

You must be a paying member of Publishers Marketplace to use this cool tool. If you're an author or a wannabe author, the $20 monthly fee is seriously worth it, IMHO.

 

Don't people DIE from exposure?

Yesterday I received an e-mail from an editor at J. Morgan Magazine inviting me to send articles to his publication. Ah, once again my charm and beauty have attracted work. But wait...the e-mail included lengthy writer guidelines, at the very end of which was:

1. J. Morgan Magazine offers no financial compensation for published articles. Authors of published articles will receive compensation for First American Rights by way of no more than two complimentary copies [What?? I insist on three copies or no deal. -Linda] of the publication in which their article appears.

2. Being published in J. Morgan Magazine provides contributors an opportunity to increase their visibility with a specific audience; conversely, the tone of each article should be from an informative perspective and are not meant to be advertorial to the author's business, service or product.

Wow, I'm in the wrong business. Forget writing -- I need to be pubishing a magazine, raking in the ad dollars/subscription money/whatever and getting content for free!

I don't understand why so many magazines ask writers to work for the "exposure." Do enough writers fall for this crap to make it worthwhile for publishers to operate this way? Do these publishers ask their plumbers, lawyers, and accountants to work for exposure? And even if you did churn out a free article for a magazine -- have you ever, ever received paying work from someone who saw your bio in a non-paying magazine?

Repeat after me: "People DIE from exposure."

Saturday, July 22, 2006

 

Kaizen for Writers

Diana's post "Some rules are good," below, links to a great article by GoDaddy founder Bob Parsons. In his "rules to live by," Parsons mentions the concept of Kaizen. I thought I'd post an oldie-but-goodie bit about Kaizen from the July 8, 2004 issue of the Renegade Writer Newsletter.

**

I have a new resolution (warning: salty language coming up): To be less half-assed about my writing. I tend to rush through assignments so that I can get out the door to do things I'd rather be doing, such as kicking bags at the karate dojo or hanging out with my friends. The articles aren't bad, of course -- otherwise my editors wouldn't keep hiring me -- but they could be better. For example, I could include a subtitle (called a "dek" in journo-speak), a sidebar or two, and an annotated copy of the manuscript for the fact checker (without being asked first!). I could also fact-check my own articles with my sources before turning it in -- something Diana does but which I never do.

If my editors are already pleased with my work, why would I want to go through so much effort? Well, my karate sensei was telling me about the Japanese concept of Kaizen -- constant improvement for the sake of improving, not because you're chasing after some reward. I really took it to heart and vowed to improve my writing, even if my editors are satisfied with the way I'm writing now. I just turned in my first article since making the resolution, to Fitness magazine. We'll see if my editor notices a difference!

If you're like me, you may also want to vow to be more thorough with your writing. When an editor asks you to mail her clips, don't "pull a Linda" and toss some black and white photocopies into an envelope -- make color copies of your clips and put them in a nice shiny folder, just like you did with your high school essays in hopes of pushing your grade up a notch or two. Don't wait for the fact checker to ask you to send an annotated copy with backup info -- do it right away. You can even throw in a sidebar or two using materials you gleaned from your research that doesn't fit in the main article.

Until next time, may your calendar be full of assignments!

**

Friday, July 21, 2006

 

Talk to Us! (Please?)

On Wednesday, July 26, from 10 pm to 12 am ET, Diana and I will be the guest authors at The Writer's Chatroom. Join us in the chatroom and ask your pressing questions about writing for magazines. We suggest you ask:

* Where can we buy a copy of The Renegade Writer -- right now?
* What's your PayPal address so we can send you money?
* Would you like a foot massage?

We hope to see you there!

(P.S. If you haven't checked out the Lifehacker list of "10 cheap or free tools that can boost productivity" in Diana's post below, do it now! I'm having way too much fun with the TextExpander software.)

 

Baby, baby ... where did my day go?

Ok, forgive the horrible Supremes pun. It's Friday -- my day off -- and I've been chained to my desk all day, trying to catch up on work. I'm about to leave the office for a little ice cream and blueberry picking. Yum!

When I was at the Chicago One on One conference, a couple people inquired why I unsubscribed from Freelance Success, and I explained how I'd done a time-study on my workday. Very enlightening. My study showed I was spending way more time discussing Tony Soprano's inner demons with fellow writers than exorcising my own demons through writing.

So another great post from Lifehacker today shows one way to map your time so that you can carve out more time for projects important to you. Like making money.

Have a great weekend. To paraphrase the other Diana, I've got this burning yearning feelin' inside me for ice cream.

 

Get thee to Staples

The Lifehacker blog posts their list of 10 cheap or free tools that can boost productivity, along with several awesome ideas I've never considered, such as using my cell phone's camera to "remember" things.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

 

Renegade Writer Q&A: Deb Carpenter


Deb Carpenter agreed to speak with me this morning at a local coffeeshop (Starbucks, if you must know). I’ve known Deb for a little over a year, and she’s an incredibly smart and talented writer – the kind of writer who we’re proud to claim as a Renegade Writer fan. Her credits include Parenting, Woman's Day, ADDitude, Publishers Weekly, and Child.com. She lives in Tyngsboro, Massachusetts, with her husband and two children, ages 6 and 3. Here’s our interview:

Why did you start freelancing?

My work background before having my two children was in child development and psychology. For five years, I was a stay-at-home mom who read a lot of magazines. I’d read articles and say to myself, “I could have written that!” so I started thinking it might be something fun for me to try. I had a ton of story ideas, and with my background, it felt like a good fit. As you know, I took your class after reading The Renegade Writer [I teach a class on getting started as a freelance writer through our local adult education center, and it’s true – Deb actually brought our book to the first class. An instant A+!Diana], and an online query writing class.

Honestly, I never thought I’d succeed. Sending those first few queries out was just an exercise in something I thought could be fun. I was interested to see what would happen, and I never really thought through “what next” if I actually got an assignment. My personality is “start at the top and see what happens.” It was pure curiosity.

So, you must have been stunned that you sold something to a major magazine fairly quickly.

I was floored. Scared out of my mind. It was one thing to make a sale, and an entirely different thing to actually have an editor counting on me.

It was my sixth query to Parenting that sold, a short piece on how to use reverse psychology to get kids to do what you want (ran February 2006). Up till that point, I was getting nos, but I’d just send something else, using the editor’s comments to help me focus on developing just the right idea.

During the writing process, I worked really hard to make a good impression. I spent way more time than I probably needed writing the piece, and I was nothing but accommodating during the revision process or when the editor had questions. I tried to be a writer she’d want to work with again. When the job was complete, I sent her a thank you note – nothing fancy, just something to let her know I appreciated the assignment. It’s something I now do with every magazine I write for. I also give them something a little extra: for example, for a story I did on ways to leave your children behind, I wrote up an additional seven or eight tips. On another story, I wrote up a little sidebar.

The interesting thing is that Parenting bought the seventh idea I pitched, as well as some of the earlier ones they’d rejected once I turned in my first piece. With Woman’s Day, the editor bought from my first pitch. She didn’t want the whole story, just part of it. So you never know how things are going to work out!

Deb, what are the three things that have surprised you since you’ve started freelancing?

First, that the work is there, especially if you have a niche or specialty. Some writers scatter buckshot, but that strategy hasn’t worked for me. I’ve done some assignments beyond my skill-set, and I spend three times as long on them as I do on the child development and psychology pieces. For me, specializing is the best use of my time.

Second, organization is key to working effectively. I’ve made most of my sales on follow-ups with editors, so I keep careful track of who I pitch and when I should follow up. I create folders for each assignment, keep my computer files organized, and make sure my contacts are in order. Super professionalism means super organizational skills – I don’t want to look like a schmuck. And especially because I have kids, it’s doubly important for me to stay organized because it’s so easy to lose track of what’s going on when you’ve got to switch gears back and forth.

And third, you can have a family and a career, but you have to know your limits. I make sure I don’t have too many assignments on my plate at once because everyone loses if I can’t keep up. It’s okay to turn down assignments – I’ve done it and my career hasn’t suffered at all. Better to be honest than to disappoint.

Thanks, Deb.

No problem. Now where’s that $20 you promised me?

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

 

Musical chairs at Prevention, Fitness

If you write for women's and health & fitness magazines, you might be interested in the editorial shuffling going on right now, according to a story in today's Ad Age. In a nutshell, Liz Vaccariello is leaving her post as executive editor at Fitness for the EIC position at Prevention. And Denise Brodey, who was previously at Shape, is now EIC at Fitness. Of course, we know what all this means: more shuffling TK.

 

Greedy writers need not apply

Linda told me about fellow writer Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell's blog post yesterday, where she posted her communications with a Craig's List advertiser about his ad for a high-paying writing gig, when, in fact, he wanted writers who'd work for free. You know, the glory of exposure and all. His response is, well, as funny as the real Tim Allen.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

 

Some rules are good

I found GoDaddy's founder Bob Parson's blog and his rules to live by, thanks to Lifehacker. Some of these rules are very applicable to the freelance life. Enjoy!

Sunday, July 16, 2006

 

Vocation or Vacation?

Linda and I are back at our desks this a.m. after spending several whirlwind days in Chicago at the Writers & Editors One-on-One, a limited-attendance annual conference that, as the name suggests, brings writers and editors together to talk magazines, story needs, etc. We loved meeting writers we've only met online, and we thought the conference organizers did a terrific job coordinating 60 or so rowdy attendees' meetings and dinners.

After the event, we shared our observations about writers conferences. OK, we're renegades and all that, but we thought it might be of value to share some rules that do work for us at these events:

  1. Fuzzy Navels are for cruises, not conferences. It can be really easy to confuse a conference in New York, Chicago, or Boston with a vacation: It's not a vacation. It's a business meeting, and a marathon one at that. The rule we follow is No Alcohol. Hey, some people can down a drink or two and everything's fine. Other people have one drink, and let the party begin. That buzz may smooth out your nervousness, but at the cost of impairing your judgment. For us, it's better to confess we're nervous than to wake up the next morning, wondering why our bras are on backwards. (In short: Don't drink and pitch.)


  2. The editors have to impress us. We met a lot of writers who were on the verge of panic before meeting with editors. Of course you want make a great impression and you want them to love your ideas. But you also want to work with an editor who you respect, right? If you're the type of writer who loves a bit of S&M, then skip to the next tip. If you like working with people who respect writers, however, then treat these meetings as an opportunity to figure out, "Is this someone I could work with collaboratively? Would I like them if we worked in an office together? Do they 'get' me? Does their magazine sound writer-friendly?" Sometimes there's simply no "love connection," as my friend Alison likes to say. Listen to your gut. Be picky. Don't be afraid to admit to yourself the relationship isn't a good fit. Focus your energies on an editor and/or magazine where the love is mutual. Which brings us to ...


  3. Editors are humans, too. When you meet them in elevators or sit next to them at dinner, they probably don't want you to pull out a list of story ideas. We saw one writer pitching nonstop at a cocktail party (Editor: "So what do you think of the weather?" Writer: "The weather? That reminds me -- what about a piece on hot air balloons?"). Ask them about their kids or where they grew up or what they think of the current political climate. (Just joking on that last one.) Have a little mercy on them. They may forget you were the kind person who walked with them to dinner, but they will definitely remember the writer who pitched story ideas from a bathroom stall.


  4. Respect others' time. The conference organizers made it clear that everyone has ten minutes with each editor, and when the bell rings, even if you're in the middle of a sentence, you must get up and move on. However, Linda lost two minutes from her first editor meeting because the writer sat there chatting with the editor after the bell rang. In fact she sat there until the organizer went over there and asked her to move on. Every minute you go over your time, another writer loses that minute -- and she paid for the conference, too. If you don't get to finish your conversation with an editor, that's a great excuse to follow up with an e-mail.

Saturday, July 15, 2006

 

"The Query Letter You'd Love to Send" Contest

The Renegade Writers have a new contest: Write the query letter you'd love to write but would never send -- for example, a query for Dog Fancy about 10 ways cats rock out over dogs, or a query for Ms. magazine on how to make your floors sparkle. Make up sources, make up quotes. Make us laugh! We'll post our favorite three here on the blog and let you vote for your favorite. The winner will get a free, signed copy of The Renegade Writer's Query Letters That Rock when it's released in November.

Editors, you can get in on the game, too! Send us the rejection letter you'd want to send...if you want to be anonymous, that's fine. The writer of the best, funniest rejection letter will win a copy of The Dimwit's Dictionary, a Marion Street Press book about misused words and phrases.

To submit, send your essay or rejection letter to me at linda-eric@lserv.com (no attachments, please). Deadline is August 15, 2006.

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

 

This made our day

After a long day of entertaining houseguests, doing housework, and -- oh yeah -- writing, I checked my e-mail and found the most delightful note from freelancer Karen Abalos, thanking us for the advice we dispensed in The Renegade Writer. She wrote, "With your advice (and a little bit of luck and hard work) I was finally able to land my first health feature gig in this month's Women's Health and Fitness magazine. And, holy crap, they actually put a reference to the story on the cover!" Karen sent us this photo, which she graciously gave us permission to post, along with a mockup of her story, complete with her writerly comments. (Too funny! Wish we could post it here.)


Linda asked Karen what the secrets were for her success. In her words:

"1. Removing instant messenger from my computer. No instant messenger, no fooling around.

2. Keeping my desk clean and organized.

3. The just five more trick. I often have a hard time focusing because I work from home and I'm constantly tempted by distraction. When I get the urge to deviate from the task at hand I tell my self "just five more." For example: brainstorm just five more story ideas, read just five more paragraphs of this book on writing, answer emails for just five minutes, or write this query for just five more minutes. This trick usually gets me to focus for a longer amount of time on the task at hand."

So run out today and read Karen's article ... it's the July 2006 issue with the coverline (Karen's) "Brownies vs. cupcakes: How to choose the best splurge."

Way to go, Karen! :-)

 

A Small Change

In Now, Discover Your Strengths (The Free Press, 2001) by Marcus Buckingham and Donald O. Clifton, Ph.D., the authors note that "the difference between someone whose performance is acceptable and someone whose performance is consistently near perfect is very slight." For example, in baseball if you hit the ball 270 times for every 1,000 plate appearances, you're considered a middling player. If you nail 320 hits per 1,000 plate appearances, you're considered one of the best. In golf, the difference between an okay player and a top player is just five putts per round.

Might it be same for writers? Maybe the difference between a struggling writer and one who thrives is just one query per month. Or one additional phone call to an editor per week, or five intro letters per year. Maybe it's an extra five minutes per article spent creating a sidebar even though the editor didn't ask for one.

How do you make the numbers work for you? What do you do that pushes you or your career past mediocre to excellent?

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

 

Ask not what writers can do for you...

A couple of things happened today that inspired this post. First, someone posted on a forum for professional writers asking for tips on how to get started as a freelancer. This, of course, caused many pro writers to become PO'd. (Why expect professionals to spend hours giving you advice that you can find in countless books and websites?)

Second, someone e-mailed me today asking for a list I compiled of magazines that assign health articles, which I mentioned on a different forum (the list was part of a handout for Diana's and my Canyon Ranch presentation). When I sent her the list, which included about 30 magazines with their snail mail addresses, URLs, phone numbers, and e-mail formats, she wrote back lamenting that the list didn't include editor names. (Oh, I'm sorry that the free information that I provided was not up to your exacting standards.)

Most of the people who write to me asking for help and advice are professional and polite. I don't mind answering a brief question or two, and the asker often writes back later to let me know how he fared using my advice (which is gratifying). Everybody wins! But based on these two situations today, I think some writers need a lesson in how to ask for advice.

1. Let the writer know that you respect her time.

A little groveling never hurt anyone. Some aspiring writers start their e-mails by saying, "I know you're busy, but I was wondering if you had a minute to answer my question." Others launch into a list of questions without acknowledging that they're asking the writer to spend her otherwise billable time helping out a stranger. Guess which ones get answered?

2. Keep it short.

Try to distill your question down to just a few sentences. This is good practice for all kinds of writing, and is also more likely to generate a response than a rambling recounting of your life as a writer.

3. Be specific.

A question like "How do I write a query?" would take the writer hours to answer; after all, there are entire books on the subject. Keep your questions as specific as possible.

4. Don't poach.

Many professional writers have writing books or e-books or offer writing e-courses. Don't ask a bunch of questions that the writer answers in her book or course. For example, don't write to Jenna Glatzer, author of The Street Smart Writer, asking "How can I avoid writing scams?" Don't write to Kelly James-Enger, author of Six Figure Freelancing, to ask how to boost your writing income. Most writers hate to say "Buy my book" but -- buy their books! (I'm using Jenna and Kelly as hypothetical examples here; they haven't expressed any grievances to me about writers asking for advice, and this tip applies to all authors.)

5. Do your research.

If you post on a forum (or e-mail a writer) to ask "How do I get started?" you might as well wear a flashing sign that says, "Flame Me!" Read the forum archives, do a Google search, pick up some writing books at the bookstore or library, and read magazines like Writer's Digest and The Writer. Lurk on forums until you have a good idea of what kinds of posts are and aren't acceptable.

6. Remember that you get what you pay for.

When you're asking for free advice or information, don't get upset if the writer doesn't spend hours pondering and answering your questions, or if the information isn't everything you had hoped for. If your question is broad or the writer is swamped with work, she may reply with a quick list of resources for you to check out or books for you to read. Instead of pitching a hissy because the writer didn't carefully answer each of your questions herself, appreciate the fact that she took the time to compile a list for you...then go and read the resources she recommended.

7. Say thanks.

Be sure to thank the writer for her advice; I can't tell you how many times I've written long, thoughtful answers to writers' questions and never received a thank-you. Professional writers also love to know how you fared with their advice, so do write back later to let her know. For example, I got an e-mail yesterday from a writer who said that she followed my advice and landed her first national assignment. That's nice to hear!

8. Return the favor.

Many writers I help return the favor by alerting me of new magazines and sites they think I'd be interested in, recommending my e-course to others, or sharing editor names with me when they break into a new pub. Sharing with others generates good writer karma.

9. Pay it forward.

When you're a famous, wealthy writer, remember the help you got from professional writers when you were starting out and "pay it forward" by helping others land their big break.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

 

The People at B&N Think I'm a Freak

The other day I walked into the Mac store to get a wireless card for my four-year-old computer, and the next day I went back to get a shiny new MacBook with built-in wireless capabilities. Now I truly have a portable office, and can do online research at the bookstore (which is where I spend the majority of my time).

The good news is that within hours of buying my new MacBook, I got an assigmment that covered most of the cost. The better news is that my new computer has a little built-in camera! Here's me having fun at Barnes & Noble browsing the Writing & Pubishing section. First I found an awesome book that everyone should buy:



Wow! Cool cover, great layout, super contents. Five thumbs up.













Here's another writing book I picked up. It's a good read, but as I don't see the words "Formichelli" or "Burrell" anywhere on the cover, I'm going to have to deduct a couple of thumbs. Sorry, Elaura.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

 

Renegade Writer Q&A: Rose Strong

Rose Strong pitched a magazine that normally pays in contributor copies -- but she asked for money. She ended up with her first magazine assignment and a nice check to boot.

Q. You mentioned that you recently sold your first article. Can you tell me more about the assignment?

A. I sold my first article to Fido Friendly, a publication that caters to people who like to travel with their dogs. I have three dogs and often travel to see family when I go on vacation. I thought a great idea would be to give hints on visiting family and friends with your pooch and keeping the welcome mat saying welcome by giving ideas for etiquette with your pet. Since I traveled to see my sister over the past 20 years with my dogs in tow, her home has become our laboratory and that's what made me the best writer to do this article. I think I was pretty convincing! In fact, the article is out now in the Summer issue and looks great!

Q. How did you pitch Fido Friendly?

A. Well, I pitched through email to the editor and wound up with an open communication with the publisher who has been the magazine contact. According to the writers guidelines, there is only a compensation of 5 complimentary copies for 'field editors.' I approached the task just like any other query and was offered a price per word. I wanted to sound professional, although I felt incredible trepidation in asking about a contract. (Your section on this and getting paid has been a wonderful courage booster!) I was told the email was the contract. I had to check your book to see what that would mean and found out I had full rights after the article was published! So cool! Not a huge payment, but it's cash and guess what? They paid me before the article was published, so this is one I'm sticking with for now!

I have been trying to get into markets for women and other mags, but thought this would be a great place to find a niche since I am quite the animal lover. I have had dogs all my life and cats as well, so I have lots of experience and have the ability to speak intelligently with medical and training professionals to get the info I need for my articles.

Since I pitched to Fido Friendly (I am currently working on another two articles for them! Dogs in Car Accidents and Dog Friendly Bucks County, PA) I have landed two assignments for Dog Fancy. To a dog writer this is like landing in The New Yorker! I think I've found a niche with dogs; it's not the only thing I'll write about, but a good place to cut my teeth!

Q. Did you break any "rules" when pitching the magazine?

A. Hmmmm, I don't think I've really done that with Fido Friendly, but for Dog Fancy, I had to play with the email address to find the right one. They say they only take submissions by snail mail and I bucked that rule!

Q. What's the best piece of writing advice you've ever gotten?

A. Wow, this is a good question, but not sure if there is just one, but if I had to choose...I've always enjoyed writing and there was a new weekly newspaper that started in my area about 4 years ago and a friend of mine wrote for it. I asked her what I had to do to find out if I could write for the newspaper too and she said, "Just pitch to the editor and see what she says!" This one simple piece of advice said in such a matter-of-fact manner was all I needed. Just like the old Nike commercials of 'Just Do It,' the way she said it gave me the guts to just do it!

I'd also have to say your book gave me one of the best ones...about the email addresses and to seek them out by playing with them to see if they go through. That has been successful for me and so simple!

Also, I'm not sure you'd consider it a piece of advice, but the saying 'Don't take it personally, it's only business,' was good once someone rationalized to me that an editor's job is to their readers and my article just didn't fit their needs at the time and they weren't simply taking a personal stab at me as a person.

Q. The worst?

A. I guess you could say that I've been lucky so far and haven't gotten a really bad piece of advice. I live in Bucks County, PA, where we have a very active writers' population which is supported by The Writer's Corner (formerly the Writer's Room) in Doylestown, PA, where there are incredibly knowledgeable writers who are sharing their own experiences and suggesting in their workshops things that have worked for them. I'm also surrounded by friends who are writers and they give great support.

Q. If you had to do it all over again, what would you do differently?

A. I'd have been braver! I wouldn't have waited so damn long to send out the queries! This is really quite easy and I don't melt like the Wicked Witch of the West when hit with a rejection!

Q. Is there any advice you'd like to give to aspiring magazine writers?

A. Here's a good hint: When I go to the doctor or my sister-in-law takes my mother-in-law who has a continual list of appointments each month, we both check for current issues of magazines and pull the mastheads out. I figure why spend the money on them, take the time at the bookstore or library, or search the web for them when those reading at a doctor's office aren't going to miss the masthead one iota! [Hey, were you the one who ripped the masthead out of Neurology Now at my doctor's office? ;-> -Linda]

When your book said that magazines sometimes give false names in their Writer's Market entries, I thought the best way to be sure that I had the editors' names was to just take out a masthead page!

If you really want to write for a living...just write and send out those queries. I know this sounds cliché, but it is so true! Read The Renegade Writer and then read it again and never give it away or loan it out, keep it on your bookshelf and refer to it over and over again. It is a wonderful reference. Rejection is just part of the deal, not the whole thing and has nothing to do with who you are as a person.

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